A coalition of international labour organisations, Greenpeace and the internet's most senior figures has formed to warn of the threat to global internet freedom from the International Telecommunications Union, ahead of a crucial meeting in Dubai in December.
As Crikey reported in June
, some hysteria has attended the prospect of the ITU revising the now-ancient International Telecommunications Regulations. But there are real concerns that the secretive ITU will reflect the agenda of both failing European telco companies, and dictatorships and kleptocracies like China and Russia eager to break the current model of internet control, via US-based non-profit organisations, most particularly ICAAN.
In August, it was revealed
Russia was proposing "to establish international control over the internet using the monitoring and supervisory of the ITU". Calls for greater international control of the internet may be welcomed by some Islamic states, after the Saudi-based Organisation for Islamic Cooperation called for an international "code of conduct"
for social media.
Tonight in London, the International Trade Union Confederation headed by former ACTU president Sharan Burrow will launch a "Stop the Net Grab" campaign, backed by Greenpeace, internet founder Vint Cerf and ICAAN head Australian Paul Twomey. The group is writing to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to warn of a series of threats from the ITU meeting:
- "Government restriction or blocking of information disseminated via the internet
- Create a global regime of monitoring internet communications, including the demand that those who send and receive information identify themselves
- Require that the internet only be used in a "rational" way
- Allow governments to shut down the internet if there is the belief that it may interfere in the internal affairs of other states or that information of a ‘sensitive nature’ might be shared."
Both the ITUC and Greenpeace are organisations normally found calling for greater government intervention and regulation. Their opposition to the ITU's consideration of internet governance reflects the deep and rising concern that the ITU could become a vehicle for advocates of internet regulation to secure an ongoing mechanism for pressing their case, and using international fora, where diplomats are more focused on process and compromise than in protecting the rights of citizens -- all in order to start a process of creeping online regulation.
The Obama administration, reflecting long-standing American efforts to keep internet governance under US oversight, has already come out strongly against efforts to extend the ITR review into the area. Australia has been more circumspect to date, but Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was blunter this morning, saying "we don't believe the existing system needs any significant or radical change. We don't believe a case has been made at all."
The campaign is also highly critical of the secretiveness with which the ITU has prepared for the December conference, with the body's governing council recently rejecting a proposal from its secretary-general to make preparatory documentation available. Instead, much of the documentation has been leaked to the wcitleaks.org
site. The ITU itself is highly resistant to revealing information about its own operations.